Can Valve’s Card Game, Artifact, Actually Be Salvaged Into A Playable Game?

Can Valve’s Card Game, Artifact, Actually Be Salvaged Into A Playable Game?
Credit: GameSpot Trailers via YouTube

It’s been known that Valve has been taking a hard look at their card game Artifact in the past couple of months.  They’re reworking the title into an Artifact 2.0, but some have considered that they’re putting lipstick on a pig, as the saying goes.  It’s a title that crashed and burned on launch, which was surprising being that it’s coming from one of the godfathers of PC gaming. Valve isn’t necessarily known for pushing out half-baked schemes and error-prone titles, which made the generally negative reception of the Artifact launch that much more surprising.

From the perspective of consumers, it was relatively easy to understand why the game consistently hemorrhaged new players. There was a standard chorus that echoed around Artifact during its surge of popularity that lasted roughly from November 28th, 2018 (when it released, which saw peak numbers of 60,740) until December 31st, 2018 (peak of 6,919).  After December of 2018, it quickly dropped below 500 concurrent players where it never recovered.

The issues were plainly stated, multiple times, across a wide medium of media.

First and foremost, it’s a card game; with this genre, typically big-spenders will tend to win more. Whether you’re playing Magic or Pokemon, users that have the cashflow to readily justify picking up multiple packs in one fell swoop have an advantage of a diverse army.  When new expansions come out with big heroes or legendaries, it’s been a part of the system since its inception; there are always new toys to purchase. Some systems have done relatively well with keeping new releases balanced, others have experienced a power creep that results in either you spending money, or you’ll consistently lose, making your purchases up to that point competitively worthless outside of a few niche cases. Progression outside of purchasing new cards with money was nonexistent; you couldn’t grind matches to gain new cards.

Artifact came out to the tune of $20 and had additional card packs that were released on a weekly basis. A vast number of these cards that were released weekly were, to the theory of some, over tuned in a way that made the newest cards far more powerful than others.  So you either purchased cards when everyone else did, or you lost.

This was partly the fault of matchmaking, which was nonexistent.  You could be matched with anyone, with any sized deck, with any number of hours played. You could play in tournaments, although you needed to pony up additional money in order to join them; the winner takes the pot.

The games themselves were interestingly random, to the point that it hurts gameplay; this was the nail in the coffin for Artifact. Creeps could simply not spawn into a lane, meaning you couldn’t generate additional money.  Items in the shop were similarly random; cross your fingers for a town-portal scroll, or literally anything you need to turn the tide in your favor. The random generation of the initial start meant that battles could simply be the luck of the draw; even playing perfectly with a wildly stacked deck, and you could end up with a string of losses that have financial consequences.

As Artifact bled players, the snowball began to gain size and momentum. Players that were untrusting of the slew of negative reviews would end up matched against players with hundreds of hours, and they would be consistently stomped until they left the title. Refunds weren’t available as Valve offered in-game DLC (card packs) for free when users first loaded into the game, making the title non-refundable.

Looking at these complaints, and it’s easy to see that the primary discomfort of Artifact was that everything cost money, and a good deal of it to be competitive.  Barring that, the RNG that dominated the matches skewed the skill that would ideally be necessary to win.  Finally, the complete lack of structured matchmaking; a consistent dent on the otherwise impeccable development that Valve has shown capable of doing time and again.  It would be a sizeable undertaking to make Artifact playable; it’s hard to think of a studio that would be better suited for the task, however.